What do you get when you cross the internet’s favorite animal with sword-wielding Japanese warriors? Well, something a lot like the 2014 Japanese comedy-drama Neko Samurai, which literally translates to “Cat Samurai” (or “Samurai Cat”).
Based on a TV series of the same name (that I have not watched), Neko Samurai‘s plot is pretty simple. A reserved, lone ronin (masterless samurai) named Kyutaro Madarame cloisters himself in an idyllic Edo-period town, only to find himself caught in the middle of two warring clans. Why are these clans fighting? Because one likes cats and the other likes dogs.
When they catch wind of his supposed warrior prowess, the dog clan pays Madarame to kill the cat clan leader’s pet cat Tamanojo. However, Madarame can’t bring himself to kill the cute, fluffy white kitty and takes her home instead. The grumpy and reticent Madarame must now deal with both Tamanojo’s inherent feline stubbornness and the two clans’ increasingly erratic rivalry.
Billed as a comedy-drama, Neko Samurai is more comedic than dramatic, but pretty light on both counts overall. The movie’s humor brings about amused chuckling rather than uproarious laughter; the main comedic sources are the characters’ absurd behavior and Madarame’s grumpiness. Madarame has a somewhat fleshed-out backstory, but it feels rather forced, told exclusively through flashbacks that seem inserted rather than weaved. The movie also fails to adequately develop its secondary characters, who end up feeling unnecessary. For instance, Madarame somewhat mentors a young samurai, named Shinsuke Zenba, who desires to avenge his father. However, we learn very little about the hapless Zenba and he becomes nothing more than a human prop.
Honestly, the movie’s only significant selling point is what you might expect it to be: the cat. Tamanojo’s aura of kitty-ness gives the movie its glow, and frankly I’m quite impressed the filmmakers got a cat to be cooperative enough to play such a big part. The movie is basically a 1.5 hour long cat video interspersed with humans doing insignificant things like trying to kill each other (for a samurai movie, Neko Samurai has some pretty underwhelming sword fights). It’s pretty damn great as cute entertainment, but not much else.
If you’re a cat lover, Neko Samurai is an awesome boredom-killer that will make you (and your feline companion(s), provided they’re feeling up to it) purr with content. If you’re a dog lover…why the hell have you read so far? For everyone in between…hey, it’s a movie about kitties, why not give it a try if you’re browsing cat gifs at work anyways?
Neko Samurai (Japanese: 猫侍)— Japan. Directed by Yoshitaka Yamaguchi. First released March 2014. Running time 1hr 40 min. Starring Kazuki Kitamura , Misako Renbutsu, Yasufumi Terawaki, and Yosuke Asari.